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Pick-and-roll defense dooms Celtics in Utah

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The struggling offense wasn’t the problem this time.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

So far, the Celtics have struggled to find consistent pressure points in their offense, because, well, that’s sort of the point. With the diversity and depth of their roster, Boston was supposed to hit you from all angles. They haven’t exactly jelled yet, but they’ve looked better of late. Through seven games in October, they sported a 100.8 OffRtg; in November, that’s increased to 110.3 in five games. However, last night in Utah, it was Boston’s previously staunch defense that couldn’t stop a Jazz attack that was firing on all cylinders. Here’s the bad news from NBC Boston’s Chris Forsberg:

Utah does not boast the same offensive skill sets that Boston has, but they’ll grind you up with what they’re good at. They’ve got two very capable ball handlers in Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell, perimeter marksmen in Joe Ingles and old friend Jae Crowder, and a pogo stick center in Rudy Gobert. In concert, those are killer combinations in the pick-and-roll.

They’re constantly putting pressure on your defense. Sag in too much on the roll man and they’ll cut you up on the drive. Help on the ball handler and Gobert is rim running for an alley-oop dunk. Shade down from the weak side and they’ll find the open shooter for an uncontested 3. Time and time again, the Jazz just played to their strengths:

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Generally, Boston defends the pick-and-roll with one goal in mind: dare the ball handler to take a inefficient mid-range jumper by staying home on shooters and tagging the roll man. So many times last night, the Celtics didn’t commit to that mantra. To their credit, the Jazz rarely settled. If they didn’t get what they wanted in their first action, they reset and ran it again. When Boston made adjustments, Utah countered with double screens and dribble hand offs. At the end of the night, they shot an astonishing 55.8% from the field that included 13-for-34 from behind the arc and thirty trips to the free throw line.

Utah Jazz shot chart vs. Celtics
stats.nba.com

There’s no rest for the weary on this three-games-in-four-nights West coast trip for the Celtics. On Sunday night in Portland, they’ll play a Trailblazers team that runs a similar system with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum attacking from the wing and a cadre of rim rollers and shooters to fuel their offense.

The Celtics threw a kitchen sink, 2-1-2 zone defense at Utah in the fourth quarter to mix up their coverage and that helped cut a 14-point lead to four in the closing moments of the game, but it wasn’t enough. They’ll have to tighten up their pick-and-roll defense in order to do something they’ve failed to do on the road so far: beat a Western Conference contender.